Water quality in bathing places in the UK is lower than in the rest of Europe, official figures show. Use these interactive charts and maps to compare bathing spots across the UK.
While water companies continue to pump raw sewage into some of the country’s most popular bathing spots, figures suggest the problem may be largely isolated to the UK.
Bathing waters across much of Europe recorded much higher standards than those found in the UK, data released by the European environmental agency (EEA) and UK equivalents reveal.
Environmental monitoring organizations monitor bathing places such as coastal waters, lakes and rivers and classify the standard as excellent, good, sufficient or poor.
NationalWorld analyzed rating data from over 21,000 bathing sites in the European Union (EU) and 600 bathing sites in the UK, finding that the proportion rated less than excellent in the UK was more double that of Europe – 31.9%, against only 12.5% on the continent.
We excluded around 700 European sites that had not been rated.
So how do bathing spots in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales compare to those in popular holiday destinations in Spain, France and Italy? These four graphs will show you how the quality of bathing sites varies across the continent.
What do bathing water ratings mean?
The Environment Agency, which monitors bathing sites in England, carries out tests for bacteria (E. coli and intestinal enterococci) throughout the summer season. The readings taken over the last four bathing seasons then determine the annual ranking of the site.
The agency said the ratings may vary depending on weather conditions, agricultural and urban pollution and stormwater overflows.
An excellent rating is the highest/cleanest classification, good generally means good water quality, sufficient means the minimum standard has been met and poor means the water has not met the standard of quality.
When the water quality is poor, swimmers are advised not to bathe. The government publish daily information on the quality of water at bathing sites in England.
Similarly, the European Bathing Water Directive requires countries to monitor microbiological pollution (and other substances) at bathing places throughout the summer season.
How do the waters in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales compare?
Scotland had the highest proportion of bathing sites rated as less than excellent in 2021, with almost two-thirds (62.4%) or 52 bathing sites falling into the category. However, only one site in Scotland was found to be in poor condition – Dhoon Bay in Dumfries and Galloway.
England had the second highest proportion of bathing sites rated as less than excellent at 28.3% or 122 in total. Across the country, four sites were rated poor.
Neither Northern Ireland nor Wales recorded poor bathing sites in 2021, but 26.9% and 19% of bathing sites still performed less than excellent respectively.
The table below shows a breakdown of how each nation’s bathing sites were ranked in 2021.
How do UK waters compare to EU waters?
The European Environment Agency (EEA) publishes data for the 27 EU Member States plus Switzerland and Albania.
Proportionally, the UK would rank second in the number of bathing places rated as less than excellent among these countries, with just under a third (31.9%) below the standards of excellence in 2021. A total of 202 bathing sites fall into this category. Albania also had 31.9% less than excellent bathing spots.
The countries were second behind Slovakia, which had 44.8% of bathing sites rated less than excellent by regulators respectively.
Cyprus, on the other hand, has proven to have some of the best bathing waters in Europe. Every bathing spot in the island nation – bar eight which had not been rated – turned out to be in excellent condition. Next come Greece with 98.7% excellent and Austria with 98.1%.
The map below shows the proportion of bathing sites rated as less than excellent in 2021 – the darker the country color, the higher the percentage of bathing sites rated as less than excellent.
The best and worst beaches in Europe
From the Balearic Islands to the French Riviera, almost 350 bathing spots in Europe have been classified as poor in 2021. These range from Playa Sa Caleta PM1 in Menorca to Plage Du Barry on the French Riviera – how compare your favorite vacation spot?
You can use the interactive map below to see how bathing places across Europe have been classified by the EEA. Zoom into your favorite country and click on a dot to see how it was rated in 2021.